I am beyond excited to anounce the release of London Pharaohs; our first full collection. It has been eight months since we started preparing to create our new set of designs and it feels great to finally have everything up in store. We had a couple of really fun photo shoots in and around London, with pro photographer Rhian Cox and the results are now pasted across this season's catalogue. At the beginning of September, we'll be showing London Pharaohs to buyers at the London Edge show in Angel. If the past few months are anything to go by, things are about to get real for La Mort!Thank you to everyone how has been involved in the making of this collection. Eight months of hard work have now paid off.
With our visual style borrowing heavily from Art Nouveau, psychedelic design and the darker side of Romanticism, there is one shadowy and mysterious group of writers and artists that we find fascinating. This group of men shut themselves away in a run-down hotel in Paris and regularly took part in long drug-induced reveries, with the intention of shedding some light on the effects of hashish on the intellectual mind. Their story is bizarre and incredible. All the more so as it took place in the 1840s.
Having been introduced to hashish in the Orient, sometime between 1836 and 1840, French psychiatrist Jacques-Joseph Moreau became interested in its effects and their similarity to psychosis. To further his understanding in this area, he gathered some of the leading French painters, poets and playwrights of the day with the intention of observing them while they were under the influence of the drug. It was 1844 and ‘Le Club des Hashischins’ was born.
The group would regularly gather at the Pimodan House on the Ile Saint-Louis and, once in their gothic inner sanctum, would consume quantities of dawamesk, a green paste of orange juice, herbs, spices and hashish. What followed would later inspire poet Charles Baudelaire to write ‘Le Fleurs du Mal’ and move Theophile Gautier to publish an essay ('Le Club des Hashischins’), which describes the whole fantastical scene. A few excerpts are below.
“To enter was to step two centuries back; time, which passes so fast, seemed not to have elapsed in this house, and like a clock negligently left unwound, its hands showed the same date always.
The walls, paneled in white-painted wood, were half-covered with darkened canvases that bore the stamp of the period. On a gigantic mantelpiece rose a statue that one might suppose to have been pilfered from the Versailles gardens.
On the ceiling, which arched into a dome, writhed a sprawling allegory painted with broad strokes, in the manner of Lemoine, which might have been by that painter.”
“The doctor’s face beamed with enthusiasm, his eyes sparkled his cheeks reddened, the veins in his temples stood out and his dilated nostrils drew in the air with force.
“This will be subtracted from your share in Paradise,” said he, handing me my allotted dose.
When each had eaten his portion, coffee was served in the Arab manner, that is, with the grounds and without sugar.”
“One, with a pale face in a black beard, was in peals of laughter before some unseen spectacle; another made unbelievable efforts to carry his glass to his lips, while his contortions to achieve his purpose produced a roar of jeers.
Another, in nervous agitation, twiddled his thumbs with incredible agility; yet another, thrown back in his chair, with dreamy eyes and lifeless arms, voluptuously let himself glide into the bottomless sea of oblivion.”
“The marble is gaining ground! The marble is gaining ground!”
To be sure, I could feel my limbs petrifying, and the marble enveloping me to the waist like the Tuileries’ Daphne; I was a statue halfway up, like the enchanted princes in the Arabian Nights. My hardened heels rang out formidably against the floor; I could have played the Commander in Don Giovanni.
By this time I had reached the head of the stairs, which I undertook to descend; they were half-lit, and through my dream they took on Cyclopean, gigantic proportions. Their two ends, bathed in shadow, seemed to plunge into heaven and hell, both of them abysses; raising my head, I indistinctly discerned, in a prodigious perspective, countless superposed landings, ramps leading up as to the top of the tower of Lylacq; looking down, I felt the presence of abysses of steps, whorls of spirals, dazzling circumvolutions.
This staircase must pierce the earth through and through, said I to myself as I continued my mechanical walking. I shall reach the bottom the day after Judgement Day.”
Today, with all the talk of 3d visual technology, it may be easy to forget that the fascination with bringing flat images to life, started well before our own century. Now, this sort of thing doesn’t usually interest me, but mention Hell, skeletons and death and you have my attention!
In the 1860’s a series of Stereoscopic images was published in France that, in their own satirical style, represented life in Hell. Created by at least three different artists, these images borrowed heavily from the political goings on of the day. Scenes, depicting all manner of debauchery, were meticulously crafted in clay and then and photographed for viewing through a stereoscope.
Stereoscopic images comprise a pair of identical pictures printed side by side which, when viewed through a special viewer or stereoscope, appear to fuse together into one three dimensional image. Honestly, it’s mind-blowing!
It appears, from the gestures of the many skeletons represented in Les Diableries, that these works of art were at least partly influenced by the 1538 ‘Danse Macabre’ woodcuts by artist Hans Holbein, as well as similar prints by other artists. Both the earlier prints and the later clay models sit comfortably within a long tradition of showing Death and skeletons as comedic characters.
For further information on these ghoulish creations, there is a fantastic book entitled ‘Diableries: Stereoscopic Adventures in Hell’ by authors Brian May, Denis Pellerin and Paula Richardson Fleming. It can be found on Amazon and I highly recommend it.
An excellent concept is perhaps the most important part of any design. If a drawing or painting is created using an unclear or incomplete idea, then no amount of technique or compositional changes can save it. As well as having very clear rules on our technical approach, we also pay very close attention to the way in which we come up with our ideas. We have spent many hours reading books to gain an understanding of structure and form, but the subject and vision of each of our designs usually comes to us in an instant after reading a particular phrase or seeing a strange image.
Distilling an initial concept into a successful, clear plan for a drawing can be very difficult. It involves many thumbnail sketches and mock-ups, and we even scrap ideas for months, returning to them when we know how to make them work. This process is certainly not for the impatient. Once we have settled on a theme, and made our initial small-scale sketches, we will find reference material to help us construct the final drawing. This can be hard if we are drawing a fantastical subject. A good example of this is our drawing Youngblood. We needed reference shots for a pair of cherubs flying and fighting. After much searching, we found underwater photographs of babies swimming, that were in the right ethereal poses.
Many of our ideas don’t even make it to final designs, but the ones that do then go through a process of refining before we start gridding up the final piece.
We have been working hard to get our new designs finished and it has resulted in a slight shift in style. We have been looking at the work of E M Lilien and, in particular, his use of solid black areas. This all lead to some exciting experimentation in the studio and it's a very creative time for us. We are also excited to reveal our first two mandalas. There will be more to come.
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